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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Handout (04/14/11)

TITLE: The Year Was 1930
By Virgil Youngblood


Chad and Quince were idly playing Mumbly Peg killing time, waiting for the Texas and Pacific to pull into the depot. When the distant blast of the train’s whistle announced its arrival, they snatched their jack knives from the dirt beside their bare feet, snapping the blades closed.

Soon their flying feet carried them to a towering oak tree and into its uppermost branches. From that vantage point alongside the dirt road, they could watch the station down the hill and the people milling about. More importantly, they could see the freight cars stretched out behind the two passenger cars.

“Look,” Quince said, pointing. “Third car from the end. A tramp just jumped off and…”

“A Bo.”

“A tramp.”

“No, a hobo. He’s got a bindle stick.”

“Why don’t they just say a bandana with his stuff tied to a stick?”

“I don’t know, Quince. It don’t matter. Watch him. If he comes this way we are gonna figure this out once and for all.”

“Maybe. I hope so. They’s got to be a clue why they pass up closer houses and stop at Aunt Bess’s to beg a meal.”

“They couldn’t get scratch at them other houses. Sure ‘nuff couldn’t at Old Man Trotters. He’d skin his wife if she passed out a two-day-old biscuit, that’s for sure.”

“But, how do they know to go to Aunt Bess’s? That’s what we got to figure out.”

“They read signs left by other tramps, but I can’t find the markings. That’s why we got to watch this guy real close. He’s coming, so watch his eyes. See if you can tell anything.”

The man was rail thin and wearing clothes that if they once fit were now several sizes too big. He paused for a moment beneath their tree before ambling on, swiveling his head from side to side. He appeared to be looking for something but whatever it was, Chad and Quincy couldn’t tell. Try as they might the boys couldn’t discern a single thing.

Sure enough, when he came to the gate at Aunt Bess’s he looked around and found a place to stash his bindle. Then he walked up to the door, removed his worn fedora, and knocked softly.

When the boys got to the house Aunt Bess was in the kitchen softly singing Wayfarin’ Stranger; the hobo, in the vegetable patch behind the house, was hoeing weeds.

“Well, look what the cat drug up” she declared. “You boys look like you could use a piece of my apple pie?”

“Yes, Mam,” they echoed simultaneously.

“Well, you’ll have to earn it. Go fetch some well water and give my garden a good drink. You be polite to the man that’s hoeing. That pie will come out of the oven about the time you’re done. Be sure and wash up before you come in.”

When the boys opened the garden gate the man leaned on his hoe and greeted them with a smile. “You fellas been riding the rails? You look a little young to me.”

“No, sir” Quince said. “But, can we ask you sumpin? We’re dying to know...’

“Aberdeen’s my name” he said. “Curiosity killed the …”

“I know, I know,” Quince said, “but you just gotta tell us Mr. Aberdeen. We won’t tell a soul, either.”

“What’s the burr in your britches, boys?”

“How’d you know to stop at this house to beg a meal? I mean, you passed other houses without stopping. We watched you.”

Aberdeen smiled, and commenced hoeing. “Hobo’s leave signs to help one another. Your Aunt’s house is marked saying you can get a feed for doing some work. Some signs say a sob story works, others something churchy. Some houses you avoid.”

“Does that clap-board shack with a rooster mail box have a sign on it?” Chad asked. “That’s Mr. Trotter’s house.”

“Three dogs be sic’ed on you there. Ain’t no use knocking on that door.”

“You’re right about the dogs” Quince said. “What’s that sign look like?”

“Sorry, boys, but you don’t have a need to know. It wouldn’t be right if I messed things up for the next guy.”

“Well, thanks anyway Mr. Aberdeen,” Chad said, “I guess I understand. Aunt Bess will feed you good when you finish. But if I don’t plug the hole in this water bucket ---“

“She’ll put our pie pieces in a sack for you” Quince said. “’You gotta give to get’” she always says. And she’s rock-candy firm about it.”

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This article has been read 428 times
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Sylvia Hensel 04/21/11
Loved your story. Well told. I lived through the greaat depression and the way you told it is the way it was.
Amanda Brogan04/22/11
Fun characters. I liked how the Aunt didn't just give stuff to the hobos, but had them work for it. I'm also intrigued at the "signs." I'm dying to know what they were. ;)

Just a tiny sliver of red ink: Pretty sure that "Mam" should be "Ma'am."

Awesome job!
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 04/23/11
The characters were a delight. Every young boy back then would have that type of curiosity, nowadays the puzzles are in the video games. The dialog was perfect. It could have been an episode of the Waltons or Andy Griffith. I've heard the homeless today still leave Clues absent which shelters are the best or where a church might let you work for a meal. Excellent storytelling
Joe Moreland04/23/11
This is an excellent piece. I love the way it flows, the characters are vividly real and it ambles along, making it's point, without trying to do too much in a small space. It has the feel of a much larger tale, or series of tales about these boys.

Thanks for sharing!
annie keys04/26/11
Good read! I love the way you 'paint the scenery'. I think this would be a good 'first few pages' of a larger work. Just sayin---I see a book being started here. *)
Carol Penhorwood 04/27/11
I too liked the accuracy behind your story..Though I personally did not live through it, I did quite a lot of research to write about this time in our country's history.
Kathleen Langridge05/02/11
I was there but my mother's heart quailed at 'mumblity peg' you had me right then and there. I cared about these boys. The story took me along like a slow moving creek in summer. The pace was perfect for the story and the characters were delicious like Aunt Bess' apple pie, I 'spect.
Beautifully crafted.
Linda Goergen05/04/11
Like seeing a scene right out of yesterday, but the work ethic moral should be ageless, though sadly it seems to be slipping more into a “you owe me” mentality in this day and age! This story was so vivid and real, all characters so likable, I really enjoyed the read!